This week's tragedy at Westroads has left us all changed.
Work hasn't been the same, mostly because the entire newsroom is focused on following the story, but also because it happened here.
We all know people who very easily could have been at that mall at 1:45 on Wednesday afternoon. We could have been there. Our children could have been there, our mothers, our friends, our friends' wives. The voices on the chilling 911 tapes we heard today could be people we know. They live here, where we live.
That's not supposed to happen. Aren't we invincible?
My role at work so far has been to play public relations guru (I'm a quick learner, and I suppose my pool experience didn't hurt: "I'm sorry, ma'm, but you just can't smoke while swimming with your toddler."). It was fun and overwhelming and a bit adrenaline-pumping at first. I talked to journalists in Ireland, Wales, London, New Zealand, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and Canada. I did many interviews Wednesday night when our crew was too busy figuring out exactly what had happened, who had killed these innocent people and who these innocent people were.
Yesterday and today, I hooked folks like MSNBC up with reporters in our newsroom who still didn't want to but had time to talk.
It's been a lot of work, and I'm more than ready to give the PR job up. I'm realizing tonight, though, as I sit at home, my son sleeping safely upstairs, that the work, the fast-paced pressure of it all, has kept it surreal for me, almost as if it didn't happen. Because of the work I haven't had time to process it at all. Now, I'm finally starting to.
Police released surveillance tapes of the kid walking into the mall and his suicide notes and audio of some of the 911 calls. In one, all you can hear is the 911 operator asking "what's your emergency? Hello? Hello?" and gun shots. Rifle shots piercing dead air.
One can guess the caller had been shot.
I don't know what we take from this. It really could happen anywhere. And all you can do really is hope it doesn't.
My instinct is to stay away from Westroads, though I am curious about what the scene will be like, feel like tomorrow morning when it reopens. More than that, my instinct is to think twice about ever leaving the house.
But you can't do that. I know.
Life goes on, and we should just be thankful we have the chance each day to go out and live it.